Vienna Philharmonic is founded in 1842 and now is considered to be the one of the greatest orchestras of the world. The specialty of Vienna Philharmonic is that the orchestra doesn’t have a permanent conductor. Orchestra chooses its own conductor annually. Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year Concert has a wide recognition and it is very popular in the western art music society. The broadcast of the show watched over ninety countries every year with an increasing demand for the tickets. New Year Concerts are conducted each year by the most popular and successful composer of the time...
About The Orchestra
Kärntertortheater which pawed the way for the Vienna Philharmonic was conducted by Otto Nicolai at 1841. This is considered to be the origin due to the fact that the principals of the orchestra were applied even then. Those principals were the autonomous of the orchestra, democratic structure and the rule that all musicians should play at Vienna State Opera Orchestra. The self-administration of the Vienna Philharmonic is very different and outstanding. Usually orchestras managed by a management team and the orchestra members act like an employee. However, the decisions in the Vienna Philharmonic are done by the team of the orchestra members.
The other different characteristic of the orchestra is the instrument used. Vienna Philharmonic has a specific sound which is equal to 443 Hz rather than 440 Hz. Also some instruments are especially made for the orchestra. These are; trumpet, clarinet, trombone, timpani, double bass, oboe and horn.
The orchestra is very famous with its waiting lists, concert seats reserved for the generations and touristic tours. It is a very important structure for classical music.
History of New Year Concerts
Hans Richter, who is chosen to be the conductor by the orchestra in 1875, had a great influence over the Vienna Philharmonic’s development. His conducting years considered to be ‘’The Golden Years’’ of the orchestra. In this period, there were great encounters with composers like Wagner, Verdi, Bruckner, Liszt and many others. Also the premieres of the important pieces were done in this period; for instance, Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, Brahms 2nd and 3rd Symphonies etc. In 1881, it was Richter who appointed Arnold Rose as a concertmaster. Although orchestra continue to elect Richter, he had to quit due to his health problems. When he leaves the orchestra, he made a recommendation of Gustav Mahler and Ferdinant Löwe for his replacement who were very popular conductors at that time.
Mahler elected to the orchestra in 1898. Even his election is made through an intensive committee meeting; there were some Richter suggestions but eventually Richter didn’t accept the offer. In Mahler’s conducting, there were tension in the orchestra; although he had supporters, some members still insist on Richter conducting. Of course, in the pre World War 2 era, the main reason was him being Jew and anti-Semitism. This being the main reason, he is being criticized for his interpretation of Beethoven pieces.
Although he is chosen to be the conductor, he faced hostility from some orchestra members. This attitude also affected the audience’s behavior. There were a lot of drawings, cartoons that ridicule the conducting gestures of Mahler. He is also known for reinterpreting the scores, making small adjustment and altering the dynamics written in the score. He is criticized for interpreting Schumann and Beethoven. Especially his re-orchestration of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is criticized a lot. However, this criticism was not the interpretation criticism of ‘’how much conductor allowed to change the piece’’ but rather seen as the interruption of the ‘’perfect German music by a Jew’’. His programming in the orchestra includes Classical and Romantic composers and some new pieces of Humperdinck and Richard Strauss. Mahler’s second season in the Vienna Philharmonic, orchestra gave the first international concert in the conducting of Gustav Mahler in Paris World Exhibition. He eventually resigns by stating health reasons, and continues conducting in other orchestras.
After Mahler’s resign in 1901, Joseph Hellmesberger started to conducting in his absence. In 1908, orchestra elected Felix Weingartner. Orchestra played under his baton until 1927. His conducting was a bit different than Mahler. He was known as a tempo rubato conductor. He was, like Mahler, also a composer and included at least one piece of his own each season. His interpretation of Beethoven was famous. He is the first composer who conduct a concert consisting only Johann Strauss, Jr which later will be the essential point of the New Year Concerts. After Weingartner, in 1927 orchestra elected Wilhelm Furtwangler. However, he resigned in 1929, due to the offers from Berlin Philharmonic.
Between 1928 and 1933, Johann Strauss III were giving New Year Concerts at Musikverein. These concerts probably inspired Clemens Kraus. In 1930, Clemens Kraus chosen to be the conductor. In the Salzburg Festival, beginning from 1929 and until 1933, he conducted the Strauss waltz concert, which can be considered as the first signals of New Year Concert. He left in 1933. Krauss, dedicated the first New Year Eve concert to Kriegswinterhilfswerk organization which is now associated with Nazi roots of Vienna Philharmonic history. However, the subject is being invested and not concluded yet.
Until 1933, orchestra has the subscription conductors which means to have an elected conductor for a year. Majority of those conductors spend lots of years conducting the orchestra since they are renewed annually. However, in 1933, orchestra decides to leave this system and have only guest conductors for each concert.
Between 1933 and 1938, before the Anschluss, collaborations are made with famous conductors Arturo Toscanini, Hans Knappertsbusch, Otto Klemperer, Adrian Boult, Victor de Sabata and George Szell. After Anschluss; conductors Furtwängler, Krauss, Knappertsbusch, Willem Mengelberg, and Karl Böhm conductod the orchestra. Since this period coincides with the Nazi period, the information varies from sources to sources. However, Furtwangler seem to be the principal conductor during this era. The orchestra criticized a lot for having a political relationship with the Nazi party, and not until recently orchestra opened the archives of Vienna Philharmonic and discuss these issues on a panel. There were some members of the orchestra who are dismissed for being a Jew and majority of them ended up in the concentration camps.
The first New Year concert is happened during this era and given not on 1st of January, but on 31st of December. The concert program was consisting of the Strauss family compositions and the income of this concert donated to national-socialistic fund raising campaign. On 1941, Clemens Krauss conducted the first official New Year Concert on 1st January. He continued to conduct the concerts until the war ends. At the end of the war, most of the conductors of this era went under the denazification process. Josef Krips replaces Clemens Krauss on that period. Another important cooperation of that time was Herbert von Karajan. In 1947, Bruno Walter conducted the orchestra once again. After that, there was lots of cooperation with significant conductors. To name a few; John Barbirolli, Carlo Maria Giulini, Erich Kleiber, James Levine, Zubin Mehta, Fritz Reiner, Georg Solti, Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Lorin Maazel, Mariss Jansons, Daniel Barenboim, Valery Gergiev and Franz Welser-Möst.
As of 1956, Willi Boskovsky conducted twenty-five New Year Concert. This is then again turned into a yearly collaboration of the famous conductors.
During the baton of Carl Schuricht and André Cluytens, orchestra gave the first United Stated tour. The honorary titles are given to the influential conductors who conducted the Vienna Philharmonic. The title Honorary Conductors belong to Herbert von Karajan and Karl Böhm. Honorary members are Leonard Bernstein and Pierre Boulez.
The New Year Concert is the most important event of the Vienna Philharmonic. It is broadcasted for free in many countries. Each year, different conductor conducts the concert, and orchestra members select the conductor. The tradition was a little bit different in the beginning and with each conductor, the New Year Concert tradition became as we know it today. The program of the concert is similar every year; the pieces are mostly chosen from the Strauss family; Johann Strauss I, Johann Strauss II, Josef Strauss and Eduard Strauss. Also their contemporaries sometimes performed which can be Joseph Hellmesberger Jr., Joseph Lanner, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Otto Nicolai, Emil von Reznicek, Franz Schubert, Franz von Suppé, and Karl Michael Ziehrer.
The conductors who conduct the New Year Concerts up until now is as below:
• Clemens Krauss, 1939, 1941–1945, 1948–1954
• Josef Krips, 1946–1947
• Willi Boskovsky, 1955–1979
• Lorin Maazel, 1980–1986, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2005
• Herbert von Karajan, 1987
• Claudio Abbado, 1988, 1991
• Carlos Kleiber, 1989, 1992
• Zubin Mehta, 1990, 1995, 1998, 2007, 2015
• Riccardo Muti, 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2018
• Nikolaus Harnoncourt, 2001, 2003
• Seiji Ozawa, 2002
• Mariss Jansons, 2006, 2012, 2016
• Georges Prêtre, 2008, 2010
• Daniel Barenboim, 2009, 2014
• Franz Welser-Möst, 2011, 2013
• Gustavo Dudamel, 2017
As already discussed above, Krauss conducted the first New Year Concert. The program of the concert is below.
• "Morgenblätter", Op. 279, waltz
• "Annen-Polka", Op. 117
• Csárdás from the opera Ritter Pázmán
• "Kaiser-Walzer", Op. 437
• "Leichtes Blut", Polka schnell, Op. 319
• "Ägyptischer Marsch", Op. 335
• "G'schichten aus dem Wienerwald", Walzer, Op. 325
• "Perpetuum mobile", ein musikalischer Scherz, Op. 257
• Ouverture to the operetta Die Fledermaus
As we can understand from the program, waltzes and polkas of the Strauss family constitutes these concerts. Strauss Family was very important for the Viennese music since they were the popular waltz composers at that time. Waltz is an important genre for Vienna, therefore addicating a concert just for waltz shouldn’t be surprising. This Stauss tradition began by Strauss I. He together with Josepf Lanner popularized the genre waltz with the help of new gramaphone recordings. Joseph Lanner was successfully upgrade the genre to be enjoyable by high society of that time. His music is still commonly performed in the New Year Concerts. Although –or because, arguably – he doesn’t allow his sons to be musicians, Johann II (The Blue Danube, Die Fledermaus), Josef and Eduard, they all did. Johann II gain a reputation far more than his father, and his works are all performed in the New Year Concerts –and many other places, of course- still today.
For understanding the different approaches of the conductors, we can examine the concert program they conduct. Below I choose excerpts from various year’s programs to see the change, diversity and the rotation of these concerts.
For example; comparing to the two concerts conducted by Abbado in 1988 and 1991, we can see that the earlier concert program is more traditional; consisting only Strauss pieces of waltzes and polkas; whereas 1991 concert include Schubert, Rossini and Mozart.
However, the tradition of these concerts are kept today. Only few concerts include different composition and even those are not surprising compositions, they fit into the program somehow. For example, if we compare the programmings of Boskovsky in 1979, Ozawa in 2002, and Mehta in 2015; we can see that there is no tendency to include different pieces to create variety, even the opposite.
• Jabuka "Das Apfelfest": Zivio, Op. 456 by Johann Strauss Jr.
• Carnevals-Botschafter, Op. 270 by Johann Strauss Jr.
• Die Schwätzerin, Op. 144 by Josef Strauss
• Künstlerleben, Op. 316 by Johann Strauss Jr.
• Beliebte Annen Polka, Op. 137 by Johann Strauss Sr.
• Vorwärts, Op. 127 by Josef Strauss
• Die Fledermaus: Overture by Johann Strauss Jr.
• Arm in Arm, Op. 215 by Josef Strauss
• Aquarellen, Op. 258 by Josef Strauss
• Die Libelle, Op. 204 by Josef Strauss
• Plappermäulchen, Op. 245 by Josef Strauss
• Perpetuum mobile, Op. 257 "Musikalischer Scherz" by Johann Strauss Jr.
• Danse diabolique by J. "Pepi" Hellmesberger
• Elisen-Polka, Op. 151 by Johann Strauss Jr.
• Wiener Blut, Op. 354 by Johann Strauss Jr.
• Die Fledermaus: Tik-Tak-Polka, Op. 365 by Johann Strauss Jr.
• Im Fluge, Op. 230 by Josef Strauss
• An der schönen, blauen Donau, Op. 314 by Johann Strauss Jr.
• Radetzky March, Op. 228 by Johann Strauss Sr.
The tradition side of these concerts are very important for both conductors and the audience. To name few; every concert has the encore of The Blue Danube and The Radetszky March. In The Blue Danube (Johann Strauss II) is always interrupted by the applause of the audience indicating the recognition of the piece. The Radetsky March, written by Johann Strauss I, is performed traditionally in every New Year Concert as an encore. In the premier of the piece, audience immediately clapped during the performance. This is being kept as a tradition today. Conductors also conduct the audience for clapping. In 2001, under the baton of Harnoncourt, orchestra also played the convert version in addition to the original.
Although the similar program is performed by the same orchestra for years, each concert is different from each other. One should take into account that conductors have preferences of period, genres, composers etc., and in this case, each conductor mainly conducts waltz apart from their background. This, of course, creates a diversity all by itself. For example, for Bohm and Furtwangler, this could be a less enthusiastic program. The great Vienna sound of the orchestra considered to be achieved with Furtwangler, Bohm, Knappertsbusch, and Krips. Today, it is less Viennese that those time; meaning, more precise, colorful and agile (McKelvey, 2002). The last of the concerts are conducted by Dudamel, who is the youngest conductor ever to conduct New Year Concert. His interpretation was very energetic and passionate.
The Vienna Philharmonic orchestra is one of the greatest orchestras in the worlds, and this tradition is very important for Western Art Music. It gave us a glimpse of the past Vienna each year. It is a very important case since the concert is watched by billions of people around the world thanks to broadcasting. Rather than the genius composers we adore today, only the Strauss family – maybe some of them are hardly known – are watched more than fifty countries every year. This shows us how much a conductor has an influence over the orchestra. Each conductor mentioned above is contributing to the tradition and especially the early conductors who made this tradition.
For the future studies, my opinion is that it is important to understand how much these conductors affected the political and social side of the Vienna Philharmonics. There are strong debates about the Nazi background of the orchestra as well as the gender issues. Since this is a self-governed orchestra, it would be interesting to investigate these influences and the criteria applied of the conductor elections.
Today, it is very hard to set up this kind of tradition, that’s why it is so important to understand the roots of these concerts. In 2018, we will be again impressed by this concert under the baton of Riccardo Mutti. At the end, it is the only event that has a draw for the concert tickets, and also the one that the seats are inherited by generations of certain families.